What

Definitions

  • "'What is it?—a fire? Speak, boy!'"
    "'What is it?—a fire? Speak, boy!'"
  • Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
    • What As a relative pronoun
    • What As an exclamatory word: Used absolutely or independently; -- often with a question following. "What welcome be thou.""What , could ye not watch with me one hour?"
    • What As an interrogative pronoun, used in asking questions regarding either persons or things; as, what is this? what did you say? what poem is this? what child is lost? "What see'st thou in the ground?""What is man, that thou art mindful of him?""What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!"
    • n What Something; thing; stuff. "And gave him for to feed,
      Such homely what as serves the simple clown."
    • What Sometimes prefixed to adjectives in an adverbial sense, as nearly equivalent to how; as, what happy boys!
    • What Used adjectively, equivalent to the . . . which; the sort or kind of . . . which; rarely, the . . . on, or at which.
    • What Used adjectively, meaning how remarkable, or how great; as, what folly! what eloquence! what courage!
    • What Used adverbially in a sense corresponding to the adjectival use; as, he picked what good fruit he saw.
    • What Used adverbially, in part; partly; somewhat; -- with a following preposition, especially, with, and commonly with repetition. "What for lust [pleasure] and what for lore.""Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom shrunk.""The year before he had so used the matter that what by force, what by policy, he had taken from the Christians above thirty small castles."
    • What Used substantively with the antecedent suppressed, equivalent to that which, or thosepersonswho, or thosethingswhich; -- called a compound relative.
    • What Whatever; whatsoever; what thing soever; -- used indefinitely. "What after so befall.""Whether it were the shortness of his foresight, the strength of his will, . . . or what it was."
    • interrog. adv What Why? For what purpose? On what account? "What should I tell the answer of the knight.""But what do I stand reckoning upon advantages and gains lost by the misrule and turbulency of the prelates? What do I pick up so thriftily their scatterings and diminishings of the meaner subject?"
    • ***

Additional illustrations & photos:

What shall be Done by the Owner What shall be Done by the Owner
WHAT IS A CABMAN'S MILE WHAT IS A CABMAN'S MILE
WHAT EVERYBODY THINKS WHAT EVERYBODY THINKS
WHAT A SHAME WHAT A SHAME
WHATS IN A NAME WHATS IN A NAME
"'WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU, SIR?'" "'WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU, SIR?'"
What the Bayonet Was Good for 033 What the Bayonet Was Good for 033
WHAT THE BASEMENT ADDS WHAT THE BASEMENT ADDS

Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
  • Interesting fact: In China, fish is eaten more than three times what it is in the United States
    • what Used absolutely as an interrogative pronoun. Applied to inanimate things.
    • what Applied to animals (and sometimes in contempt to persons) with the force of inquiry after the nature or kind: as, what is that running up the tree?
    • what Applied to persons: nearly equivalent to who, but having reference to origin or character, rather than to name or identity.
    • what Used in various elliptical and incomplete constructions: as, what? equivalent to what did you say? or what is it?
    • what Used in exclamation, to express surprise, indignation, etc.
    • what Expressing a summons.
    • what A general introductory notion, equivalent to ‘well,’ ‘lo,’ ‘now,’ etc., and constituting a mere expletive.
    • what Used adjectively and lending an interrogative force to the proposition in which it occurs. Inquiring as to the individual being, character, kind, or sort of a definite thing or person.
    • what Inquiring as to extent or quantity: equivalent to the question how much?
    • what Used intensively or emphatically with a force varying from the interrogative to the exclamatory: often followed by the indefinite article: as, what an idea!
    • what Elliptical for what say or think you of?
    • what A compound relative pronoun, meaning ‘that which,’ or having a value including the simple relative pronoun which with the demonstrative pronoun that preceding: as, “what I have written I have written” (that is, that which I have written I have written). It is no longer used of persons, except in the anomalous phrase but what.
    • what What was formerly and in vulgar speech is still used as a simple relative, equivalent to that or which: as, if I had a donkey what wouldn't go.
    • what What has also the value of whatever or whoever: as, come what will, I shall be there.
    • what Used adjectively, meaning ‘that … which,’ or having compound relative value: as, I know what book you mean (that is, I know that book which you mean); he makes the most of what money he has (that is, he makes the most of that money which he has): applied to persons and things. That … who or which; those … who or which.
    • what What sort of; such … as.
    • what Any who or which; whatever; whoever.
    • what How much.
    • what Something; anything: obsolete except in such colloquial phrases as I'll tell you what (by abbreviation for what it is, what I think, or the like).
    • what A thing; a portion; an amount; a bit: as, a little what.
    • what Why.
    • what To what degree? in what respect?
    • what How; how greatly; to what an extent or degree; how remarkably: exclamatory and intensive.
    • what With omission of the second what (so frequently):
    • what So much as; so far as.
    • what That. In alwhat, until (compare although, etc.).
    • what In the phrase but what: but that; that … not.
    • what Quick; sharp; bold.
    • ***
Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
  • Interesting fact: Cricket chirping can tell the temperature outside. Counting how many times a cricket chirps in 15 seconds and then adding 40 to that number will approximately tell you what the temperature is in Fahrenheit
    • interrog. pron What hwot applied both to persons and things—also used elliptically and as an interjection:
    • interrog. adj What of what sort, how much, how great—also used in an intensive manner
    • rel. pron What that which, such ... as:
    • indef. pron What something:
    • adv What (obs.) why? to what degree?—conj. so much as: that, as in but what, that ... not
    • pron What whosoever
    • interrog. pron What hwot (Shak.) used to express a summons, or as a mere expletive
    • rel. pron What (Shak.) any, who, which
    • indef. pron What (Spens.) a portion, bit
    • ***

Quotations

  • Red Auerbach
    Red Auerbach
    “Just do what you do best.”
  • Theodore Roosevelt
    Theodore%20Roosevelt
    “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
  • Sir John Lubbock
    Sir%20John%20Lubbock
    “Your character will be what you yourself choose to make it.”
  • Owen Wister
    Owen Wister
    “When you can't have what you choose, you just choose what you have.”
  • Vincent Van Gogh
    Vincent%20Van%20Gogh
    “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”
  • Source Unknown
    Source Unknown
    “Courage is knowing what not to fear.”

Idioms

Be careful what you wish for - If you get things that you desire, there may be unforeseen and unpleasant consequences.('Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.' and 'Be careful what you wish for; you may receive it.' are also used.)
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Come what may - If you're prepared to do something come what may, it means that nothing will stop or distract you, no matter how hard or difficult it becomes.
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Just what the doctor ordered - If something's just what the doctor ordered, it is precisely what is needed.
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Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing - If the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, then communication within a company, organisation, group, etc, is so bad that people don't know what the others are doing.
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Look what the cat dragged in - This idiom is used when someone arrives somewhere looking a mess or flustered and bothered.
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Practise what you preach - If you practise what you preach, you do what you say other people should do.(In American English, the verb is 'practice')
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So what - Impolite reply showing that the speaker is not impressed by what has been said. ex: So what? Why should I care?
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What can sorry do? - This means that it is not enough to apologise.
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What can you expect from a hog but a grunt? - (USA) This means that you can't expect people to behave in a way that is not in their character- a 'hog' is a 'pig', so an unrefined person can't be expected to behave in a refined way.
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What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? - This idiom is often used when someone says something irrelevant to the topic being discussed.
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What goes around comes around - This saying means that of people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them.
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What goes around, comes around - The good or bad you do to others is requited.
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What will be will be - The expression what will be will be is used to describe the notion that fate will decide the outcome of a course of events, even if action is taken to try to alter it.
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What's cooking? - When you ask what's cooking it means you want to know what's happening.
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What's good for the goose is good for the gander - This idiom means that the sexes should be treated the same way and not be subjected to different standards.
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Etymology

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
AS. hwæt, neuter of hwā, who; akin to OS. hwat, what, OFries. hwet, D. & LG. wat, G. was, OHG. waz, hwaz, Icel. hvat, Sw. & Dan. hvad, Goth. hwa,. √182. See Who

Usage

In literature:

I return to see What they're about, or what they meditate.
"The Comedies of Terence" by Publius Terentius Afer
With what Force and in what Pitch should it be read?
"The Ontario High School Reader" by A.E. Marty
And what signifies what was said sixteen years ago?
"Orley Farm" by Anthony Trollope
But what can the like o' him ken o' a young family and what's needed for them.
"Janet's Love and Service" by Margaret M Robertson
You pass by and wonder what mysterious rites are going on in there, what prayers, what visions?
"Chance" by Joseph Conrad
A skillful writer will be recognized as much by what he leaves in the inkstand as by what he says.
"Elementary Guide to Literary Criticism" by F. V. N. Painter
That is, what we are is composed of what we know, what we feel and what we believe.
"Journeys Through Bookland, Vol. 10" by Charles Herbert Sylvester
From the very first she had known what had happened and what would happen.
"The Goose Man" by Jacob Wassermann
You know what to say, what not to say, what to tell and what to keep back.
"The Day of Judgment" by Joseph Hocking
What a brilliance, what splendor!
"Children's Literature" by Charles Madison Curry
What do you think, who ought to know what hot weather means?
"Ralph the Heir" by Anthony Trollope
What a Thekla and what a Max!
"Hopes and Fears scenes from the life of a spinster" by Charlotte M. Yonge
What business was it of his to be asking what her name was?
"The Vicar of Bullhampton" by Anthony Trollope
What matter what the cost was?
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde
I should say, your mother knows what is what.
"The End of a Coil" by Susan Warner
Not only what happens in the next room, but what is thought at the other side of the world, is comprehended in his omniscience.
"English: Composition and Literature" by W. F. (William Franklin) Webster
I don't know what it is, and what's more, I don't care.
"The Wide, Wide World" by Susan Warner
What sorrow, what black tragedy that cave concealed, no one may ever know!
"Carmen Ariza" by Charles Francis Stocking
By what means and to what organs is the larynx connected?
"A Treatise on Anatomy, Physiology, and Hygiene (Revised Edition)" by Calvin Cutter
What did it matter even what Lucy felt, what any one felt?
"Sir Tom" by Mrs. Oliphant
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In poetry:

So we know
she must have said something
to him--What language,
life? Oh, what language?
"Sarn Rhiw" by R S Thomas
Where is my God? what hidden place
Conceals thee still?
What covert dare eclipse thy face?
Is it thy will?
"The Search" by George Herbert
What he was and what he is
They who ask may haply find,
If they read this prayer of his
Which he left behind.
"Andrew Rykman’s Prayer" by John Greenleaf Whittier
That’s a true link, I believe,
With the mysterious worlds!
What an oppressive grief,
What a misfortune holds!
""I often shiver with cold"" by Osip Emilevich Mandelstam
A song? What laughter or what song
Can this house remember?
Do flowers and butterflies belong
To a blind December?
"Ghost Raddled" by Robert Graves
Ah, gracious God!
Do with us what thou wilt, thou glorious heart!
Thou art the God of them that grow, no less
Than them that are; and so we trust in thee
For what we shall be, and in what we are.
"A Hidden Life" by George MacDonald

In news:

"What is your favorite family activity and what makes it so special".
Along the way, one learns what is popular and what is not.
A guide to what's new, what's coming back for fall TV.
What is wrong and what do I need to do.
You'll also get tricks and tips from the test kitchen on what ingredients to mix in and what to do if the sauce breaks.
I'm not sure what I like more, the gorgeous men or the fact that they are actually wearing what they are wearing.
One way we can overcome the problem is to sink some time into learning what's what and customizing our displays.
To me, food is what you eat, not what you pray to.
What could be happening, and what are our options.
What you want and what you need are rarely the same.
Sanctuary spokeswoman Angela McCleaf told me what folks can expect during the latest Discovery Day — and what they can bring with them for the chimps.
What Bobby Petrino heard and what his players felt may be more important to these Razorbacks than what was seen in last Saturday's debut scrimmage for spring football 2009.
But what if we were taxed less on what we earn and more on what we consume.
What You Should Know About What It Is and What It Does.
John McWhorter, a contributing editor at The New Republic and TheRoot.com, is the author of "What Language Is (And What It Isn't and What It Could Be).".
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In science:

What we really want to know is what fraction fc of the vertices have been removed when we reach the transition.
Random graphs as models of networks
A question then arises as to what extent and under what conditions MFTs are applicable.
Theory of spin-2 Bose-Einstein condensates: spin-correlations, magnetic response, and excitation spectra
What we shall discuss is what happens when one includes non-planar corrections in the gauge theory.
Quantum Mechanics, Random Matrices and BMN Gauge Theory
Let us now figure out what is BY ( ˜N ) and what is its ˜N .
Structures of G(2) type and nonintegrable distributions in characteristic p
Namely, as it has been repeatedly discussed, we cannot possibly describe what happens outside consciousness, without introducing the presence of the operational observer in the very description of what happens.
Founding quantum theory on the basis of consciousness
It describes how consciousness operates upon itself in an event of observation and what the potentialities of observation are depending on what this operational process does.
Founding quantum theory on the basis of consciousness
Quantum theory is the description of what happens in consciousness, namely what happens during the process of observation and how we should describe the evolution of the state of potential consciousness between observations.
Founding quantum theory on the basis of consciousness
There are two basic questions of interest: i) what is the expectation hk(N )i of LIS; and ii) what are the fluctuations of the mean length of LIS.
Longest increasing subsequence as expectation of a simple nonlinear stochastic PDE with a low noise intensity
The GM Faraday effect can be used to probe the nature and distribution of DM, to realize a picture of our Universe shaped by what we observe, rather than by what we believe to be so.
Observing Dark Matter via the Gyromagnetic Faraday Effect
The more interesting question would be to understand what kind of matter that represents and what is the dynamics of such a coupling (see for ideas in that direction).
Three Dimensional Loop Quantum Gravity: Particles and the Quantum Double
What it is? By what the dark matter is formed? Experimental phenomenon evidences and relative explanation under the point of view of the physics of the elementary particles.
Dark Matter of the Universe
The kinds of questions being asked are, for example, what are the distributions for extreme events, or what are the inter-event gap distributions.
Extreme statistics of complex random and quantum chaotic states
The alternative to modifying string theory to get what we wanted was to understand better what the theory was giving without modification.
The Early Years of String Theory: A Personal Perspective
In reality, however, a scientifically useful description of a single observation requires knowledge of when it was taken, from where, over what wavelengths, in what conditions, covering what area, and so on.
Sky in Google Earth: The Next Frontier in Astronomical Data Discovery and Visualization
Furthermore, what only see the (simpler) cycle Σk open strings do not see is nevertheless transformable to what open strings do see via an isotopic decay.
Azumaya-type noncommutative spaces and morphisms therefrom: Polchinski's D-branes in string theory from Grothendieck's viewpoint
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